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Lyme Disease and Violence: No Link

Experts Say Lyme Disease Can't Lead to Violence or Psychosis
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

March 10, 2009 -- Lyme disease can't make a person violent or psychotic, infectious disease specialists tell WebMD.

According to media reports, the family and lawyer of a man accused of the murder of an Illinois pastor blame the man's deteriorating mental health on longstanding Lyme disease.

The experts who spoke with WebMD have not reviewed the man's medical records and are familiar with the case only through media reports. But speaking in general terms, the experts reject the idea that violent behavior can be blamed on Lyme disease.

"I don't know of any convincing evidence that Lyme disease can cause violence or psychosis," Gary Wormser, MD, tells WebMD. Wormser is director of the Lyme Disease Center and chief of infectious diseases at New York Medical College in Valhalla, N.Y.

"We can be clear Lyme disease does not lead to psychotic and violent behaviors," William Schaffner, MD, tells WebMD. Schaffner is president-elect of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases and chair of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.

In an August 2008 article -- written before the alleged attack by Terry J. Sedlacek -- the St. Louis Post-Dispatch chronicled the man's decade-long mental health problems. The article suggested his symptoms were due to Lyme disease.

But such "chronic" Lyme disease is "not a sound diagnosis" for anyone, Schaffner says. Untreated Lyme disease certainly can go on for a very long time. And Lyme disease damage doesn't necessarily go away with treatment. But Schaffner says there is little evidence that prolonged antibiotic therapy -- or other radical, unproven treatments -- benefits patients.

"The history I've gleaned from the news reports suggests this man was being treated for supposed chronic Lyme disease, a diagnosis that needs to be looked at with great skepticism," Schaffner says. "If this was a misfocused attention on Lyme disease, his real underlying problem was not given attention and therapy. Because Lyme disease, in whatever manifestation, does not lead to violent and psychotic behavior."

Wormser has actually looked for Lyme disease in Missouri, near the Illinois border where the man was supposed to have contracted the disease.

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